Why is it that a room that is relatively unimportant is the subject of 5G discussions? Why do we largely neglect the most promising 5G component? For months, I’ve been talking to businesses, operators, and vendors on 5G, and I’ve concentrated on this underestimated piece-millimeter wave over the past month. Here’s what I find, and why anyone looking for a 5G revolution should be front-and-center with this unique technology choice.
When I was doing a short survey of company attitudes on private 5G, I got interested in companies and millimeter waves, which I blogged about last week. The issue I noticed was that companies were having a private 5G technology-centric vision, not a goal-centric vision. This left them without a viable way forward, because they needed business cases to embrace anything. I began to speak about the millimeter wave’s market potential and noticed that most had never been pitched on it, but most could actually see a practical mission set that could push its deployment.
In public 5G implementations, there’s also a true mission for millimeter-wave. With many operators, I have run the numbers, and they’ve told me that there is real potential for “significant” millimeter wave deployment. The potential is described as “compelling” in some areas of the world, and yet even combining this with company interest does not seem to encourage millimeter waves as a notion. That’s why I suggest looking at it here in more depth.
5G technology has two broad flavors. The one most people have heard of is the smartphone edition, and some are even using it. This is intended to support smartphones and other mobile devices and is a logical progression, especially 4G/LTE, from previous cellular mobile standards. Millimeter-wave is the other one. Millimeter-wave is truly aimed at replacing fixed wire line broadband, particularly the comparatively low-speed DSL, unlike mobile 5G. It’s an alternative to home fiber (FTTH) and a rival to cable. However, as we can see, you can actually support millimeter-wave mobile users.
Millimeter-wave is named because millimeters are very short of the wavelength of the spectrum used. A millimeter is 0.03937 inches for those who care. Most individuals are more accustomed to seeing frequency measurements in Hertz or in the variant of mega or Gigahertz, so millimeter wave is usually considered to be between 30 and 300 GHz, where spectrum below 5 GHz can normally be used by conventional mobile 5 G.
The drawback of the millimeter-wave is that they appear to behave like radar as radio frequencies get higher, bouncing off stuff instead of getting to the consumer via it. Millimeter-wave often does not go through buildings or even heavy vegetation, and so it is usually considered to be a shorter-range system, depending on factors like antenna heights and large obstructions, good for up to about five miles. It is also limited in its capacity inside a building to facilitate direct-to-user connections.
There are three benefits that, for at least some missions, will more than outweigh these problems. The first is that the spectrum’s information-carrying ability is directly related to its frequency so that millimeter-wave stuff might carry more per spectrum unit bandwidth. The second is that there is more bandwidth available per assigned channel, more power multiplication, and the last is that in that range there is more spectrum available than in the cellular ranges.
Another possible advantage has been cited by some operators, which is that 5 G mm-wave is not inherently “5 G” in an implementation context. Between multipoint microwave and cellular networking, it’s in a kind of interesting transitional zone. For private millimeter-wave 5G, this will offer operators interesting choices and create a genuinely compelling business case.
I have noted in some earlier blogs that it is not difficult to find the business case for mm-wave 5G. Wire line replacement is all about finding a way to approach customers’ option of baseline bandwidth (around 200 Mbps) with a lower “pass cost” (the cost of getting broadband to an area so that it can be sold and linked) and the cost of connecting per user. Legacy CATV cable gets a pass price of perhaps $180, and it’s on the order of $220 for new installations. The cost of the FTTH pass is almost $600 on average, and none of these technologies can be self-installed. Depending on the topography and household density of the target service area, the 5G/FTTN hybrid pass costs are highly variable, but they can range from as low as $150 to as high as $350.
Some operators claim that by mounting the antenna to a window facing the correct way, you can self-install the 5G/FTTN combination, which does seem to be a bit of coordination to find the right direction for the antenna to face. The FTTN node’s location relative to the home and windows is only known to the operator. This is very much like an over-the-air TV antenna being mounted. When the antenna is inside, it is attached to a “modem” that offers WiFi access at home (or, with suitable equipment, Ethernet direct connection).
This simple configuration of what could be a multi-hundred-megabit broadband connection makes this method desirable for private 5G. Companies with a campus, or even with several sites relatively close to each other, might feed one broadband and use the 5G mm-wave hybrid to cover others, either point-to-point or as the “node” using the primary feed. This program may be called “5GINO” (5G in name only) since the only thing that “5G” really needs is spectrum and radio technology.
Mm-wave may be groundbreaking for both public and private apps. The public 5G/FTTN mission is likely to work the information out and have an early demand for antennas, radio elements, and so on. By reducing prices, this will encourage wider acceptance. Even the FTTN nodes could become almost commodity products, and large adoption of private millimeter-wave could push down costs even further.
For private millimeter-wave installations, there are a few different criteria, the most notable being the need to frequency-hop to respond to interference in the unlicensed spectrum. WiFi (particularly in dense residential areas) poses the same problem, so it is not rocket science to tackle it.
Millimeter-wave should not be limited to the replacement of wire lines, either. Note that a local WiFi router will feed a regular mm-wave installation. Any WiFi-calling smartphone will then be able to take advantage of the broader broadband spread around campus or a large building and have standard cellular coverage still available.
Will it be possible for a business to use unlicensed spectrum to launch a mobile 5G service? There are two innovations involved in the evolving strategy for this. For “License-Assisted Access,” the first is “LAA” and the second is NR-U, for “New Radio-Unlicensed.” With 4G and Evolved Packet Center, LAA came into being, and NR-U is a pure 5G option. You can run “standard” 5G with NR-U on unlicensed spectrum, or run it using LAA with a cellular “14kbsol.” There is virtually zero awareness of either LAA or NR-U among companies I’ve chatted with, which shows that if there’s any real presentation of private 5G going on, it’s not exactly informative. The explanation may be that if anything goes wrong, businesses see any network capacity that is a conglomerate of standards and an invitation to integration issues and finger-pointing.
However, that does not disqualify the millimeter-wave as a technology useful for businesses. In reality, using 5G mm-wave and WiFi to enable calling from within a facility will be simpler than adopting either NR-U or LAA, given, of course, that WiFi calling is supported by your primary cellular carrier(s). There is no doubt that a pure 5G approach might deliver more functionality, but it is not clear if the additional pure-5G capabilities are needed, given the fact that WiFi calling works fine for millions today.
What, though, about the Iota? Well, obviously, all the WiFi Iota applications we have today, and many more besides, will support WiFi 6. To match Qi’s over several WiFi zones, you can use Simple Service Set Coloring and it supports both high-capacity and low-power-and-bandwidth devices. Again, I’m not denying that there are apps for which it won’t fit (mobile Iota) and that there are more than pure 5G that could do better, but how much more is it going to need the most Iota?
My argument is clear. For millimeter-wave 5G, in both public and private 5G implementations, you can make a good business case. It does everything we can do now, but it’s easier and cheaper, and with WiFi 6, it hybridizes beautifully. This is important because WiFi calling and WiFi IoT are proven solutions to proven possibilities, and we now have them and they work. It is the type of 5G that has the cleanest business case for implementation even without any attempt to co-use mm-wave 5G for mobile devices. Add in the smartphone factor and it could also be a killer step towards not only public but also private 5G.This article is written by the expert marketing team of Servant which is one of the best manufacturers of millimeter wave components in USA.